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How One Question from a Rice MBA Helped Transform a Brazilian Startup

by Abbey Hartgrove, Director, Global Programs & Experiential Learning

Abbey Hartgrove with students in Chile
Abbey Hartgrove with students in Chile

It was a straightforward and deceptively simple question; yet it sparked a profound realization: “Is your company a tech innovator or a healthcare provider?”

Rice MBA students were in Brazil as part of their degree-required Global Field Experience (GFE) course. For months leading up to the trip, small student teams had partnered with companies in an emerging market to address a business challenge and equip executives with actionable guidance. Until now, they'd been meeting with clients over Zoom. Now, in their final week of the class, they were on location in Sao Paulo, consulting in person and presenting data-driven recommendations for the clients’ strategic growth.

Upon hearing this question, the founder of a telemedicine startup paused and reflected. His company was working to transform access to Brazilian healthcare. The question was simple, but it made the founder realize that in chasing the next big innovation, he may have lost sight of his organization’s core value proposition. Over the course of the immersive week working with our students, the founder became increasingly enthusiastic about the future. Pulling faculty members aside, he said, “We’re a very different company since Monday.”

Our Unique Approach to Experiential Learning and Global Immersion

When students apply to Rice Business, they know our unique approach focuses on real-world problem-solving. The GFE course represents our mission in action, empowering MBAs to guide global companies through uncertainty. The course allows Rice students to make a real-world impact and help drive commercial and social progress.

The GFE is different from the global programming at most other top-ranked business schools. Few MBA degrees require students to consult overseas for a real client, let alone present their recommendations in person. Since its inception in 2018, we’ve made this programming a priority. Students gain crucial consulting experience and mentorship from world-class faculty, and they build a cohort that will last the rest of their lives.

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The Power of Consulting Overseas

It strikes me that the entire premise of Rice Business is to take talented people and test them to become global leaders. By diving into an unfamiliar business ecosystem, our MBA students stretch their analytical skills and consulting moxie. Guided by frameworks they learn in the program, they tackle obstacles from project design to delivery while absorbing global cultures, histories, and ways of doing business firsthand.

As future leaders, our MBAs return home connected by a shared voyage of discovery that money can’t buy. The GFE empowers them to apply classroom knowledge to unfamiliar contexts. And clients receive fresh perspectives to tackle complex strategic questions.

Moments like the Brazilian founder’s epiphany underscore the immense power of experiential learning. It's one thing to discuss global strategy in a classroom; it’s quite another to engage directly with organizations abroad.

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